Following is a condensed summary of talking points prepared for Plains representative Rick McMichael in connection with news conference held on May 26, 2015 at 4pm:
Today marks one week since the release from Line 901. This past week has been a very difficult period for this community and the beautiful Santa Barbara environment. We cannot express enough how much we regret the disruption this incident has caused. We are steadfastly focused on cleaning up this area as quickly as possible.
We thank all our federal, state and local partners – and volunteers – for helping us make as much progress as we have. The passion the volunteers have brought to both their training and work – especially on a holiday – speaks very highly of this community. All of us at Plains thank you for your dedication and commitment. Your effort has led to the significant progress we have made over this past week.
Recovery Effort Updates and Excavation
Progress continues in each of the five of the work zones in the recovery area: the water zone, the beach zone, the bluffs zone, the culvert zone and the release site.
On the water, nearly all the visible oil has been removed; 16 vessels are continuing to skim the water and boom continues to be deployed to collect remaining sheen. Plains has been advised by experts with significant experience in the Santa Barbara area that some of the oil sheen seen on the water is associated with natural seeps that have been occurring for hundreds of years. Our boats have continued to skim some of this oil as well.
On the beaches, workers continue to manually clean oil from the cliff face and large stationary rocks as well as to collect oiled seaweed and kelp from the shoreline.
In the bluffs zone, the area west of the southbound 101, Plains has completed preparing the area for cleaning and are awaiting the approval from Unified Command to proceed.
In the culvert zone, Plains’ work crews have walked the length of the culvert to review the results of our initial cleaning efforts. While some areas will require additional cleaning, progress is being made.
At the release site, we have removed substantially all of the oily soil and placed it in bins with the exception of the immediate area adjacent to the affected portion of the pipeline. The remainder of our efforts in this area have been focused on executing the work plan approved by PHMSA and Unified Command for uncovering and removing the affected segment of pipe.
Plains began the process of uncovering the pipeline early this morning so that we can remove the affected section of pipe. The work plan has very specific and deliberate steps that Plains is following; we do not yet have a time for when that work plan will be completed. In addition to PHMSA officials and representatives of the Unified Command who are observing the excavation, a metallurgist is on-site to ensure the conditions of the pipe are preserved for proper analysis.
As Plains removes the affected section of the pipe, protective measures will be taken to ensure any oil residue in the pipeline is captured and that the pipeline is wrapped to preserve its conditions during transport. The affected section of pipe will be sent to an independent, third-party laboratory for metallurgical testing to aid in the investigation into the cause or causes of this unfortunate accidental release. The final report is expected to take weeks to months to complete and will be provided to PHMSA. As soon as Plains removes the affected portion of pipe, we will install a new section to allow us to empty the remaining oil from the pipeline. This work will continue into tomorrow.
Line 901 pipeline is regulated by federal regulations and been engineered to meet those standards; the pipeline is equipped with one check valve and three remotely controlled, motor-operated valves along its 11-mile route.
A check valve is an inline device that automatically closes if oil were ever to reverse flow in the pipeline due to an abnormal flow condition. The remotely controlled, motor-operated valves are operated by Midland Control Center via a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system, which provides Midland Control Center with real-time operating information via satellite.
Plains’ operators in the Midland Control Center monitor flows and pressures on a 24-hour basis and have the ability to remotely start and stop pumps and open and close motor-operated valves. The valves on Line 901 will automatically shut at the press of a button from Plains’ Control Center. It is not necessary to for a person to be dispatched to the site to close the valve.
Plains’ pumps are located at pump stations along the pipeline. Pumps move the oil through the pipeline and are equipped with controls that are programmed to automatically shut down under certain operating conditions. Plains pump stations are equipped with pressure monitoring devices and will automatically shut down if operating pressures exceed maximum discharge or minimum suction thresholds.
We do not feel it is prudent to install an automatic shutoff valve for safety reasons. While these types of valves may be appropriate for use in the movement of compressible gases, they are not considered to be appropriate for use in the movement of incompressible fluids. Line 901 is a large diameter, high-volume, crude oil pipeline. Automatically closing a valve on an operating pipeline such as this increases the pressure which could create an unsafe situation. The use of these types of valves could have the unintended consequence of pressuring the line beyond its maximum operating pressure. We liken this pressure to slamming a car into “park” when driving down the freeway. It is much safer for controllers who understand the hydraulics of a crude oil pipeline to shut it down using a planned sequence of steps rather than for a computer to automatically close a valve on oil that is traveling in a confined space under high pressure.